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The Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir ( , "Lion Cub") is an Israelimarker-built all-weather, multi-role combat aircraft based on a modified Dassault Mirage 5 airframe, with Israeli avionics and an Israeli-made version of the General Electric J79 turbojet engine.



The project that would ultimately give birth to the Kfir can be traced back to Israel's need for adapting the Dassault Mirage IIIC to the specific requirements of the Israeli Air Force (IAF).

The all-weather, delta-winged Mirage IIICJ was the first Mach 2 aircraft acquired by Israel, and constituted the backbone of the IAF during most of the 1960s, until the arrival of the A-4 Skyhawk and, most importantly, the F-4 Phantom II, by the end of the decade. While the Mirage IIICJ proved to be extremely effective in the air-superiority role, its relatively short range of action imposed some limitations on its usefulness as a ground-attack aircraft.

Thus, in the mid-1960s, at the request of Israel, Dassault Aviation began developing the Mirage 5, a fair-weather, ground-attack version of the Mirage III. Following the suggestions made by the Israelis, advanced avionics located behind the cockpit were removed, allowing the aircraft to increase its fuel-carrying capacity while reducing maintenance costs.

By 1968, Dassault had finished production of the 50 Mirage 5Js paid for by Israel, but an arms embargo imposed upon the country by the French government in 1967 prevented Dassault from ever delivering the aircraft. The Israelis replied by producing an unlicensed copy of the Mirage 5, the Nesher, with technical specifications for both the airframe and the engine obtained by Israeli intelligence.


An F-21A Kfir of VF-43 preparing for takeoffat NAS Fallon, Nevada, USA
Ecuadorian Air Force Kfir CE (C.10).
Note the refuelling probe and the characteristic longer nose of this variant.

The development of this aircraft has been attributed to covert action on the part of Mossad. After General De Gaulle embargoed the sale of arms to Israel, the IAF feared that in the future it would no longer have an upper hand over its regional adversaries that were being re-equipped with more advanced Soviet aircraft. The bulk of the Israeli Airforce had been locked into the Mirage but was quickly facing problems because it had been severely depleted after the Six-Day war. They did not have a better alternative than the Mirage. Mossad was able to acquire the plans for the Mirage III, which were used directly in the design process of the Kfir aircraft series. In his book Mirage James Follett explains how Daniel Kalen a former fighter pilot of the IAF independently embarked on a mission to acquire the Mirage blueprints from Switzerland's Sulzer Engineering Corporation. The mentioned company was building the Mirages in Switzerland under license from Dassault. On subsequently receiving help from his father Emil Kalen, the then Director of Mossad, Daniel along with other Mossad agents stole more than 250,000 blueprints of the Mirage weighing approximately 3 tons from the Luftech Corporation. Luftech had been sub-contracted by Sulzer to construct the drawings and prints of the aircraft. Everything right down to the instruction labels on an aircraft's fuselage was taken to Israel in what is known as the biggest espionage operation in history. In a few years time the Israelis had their own version of the Mirage, The Kfir. The very first test flight was carried out by Daniel Kalen himself.

Two powerplants were initially selected for trials—the General Electric J79 turbojet and the Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan. In the end, the J79 was selected, not the least because it was the same engine used on the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which the Israelis began to acquire from the United Statesmarker in 1969, along with a license to produce the J79 themselves. The J79 was clearly superior to the Atar 09, providing a dry thrust of 49 kN (11,000 lbf) and an afterburning thrust of 83.4 kN (18,750 lbf).

In order to accommodate the new powerplant on the Mirage III's airframe, and to deliver the added cooling required by the J79, the aircraft's rear fuselage was slightly shortened and widened, its air intakes were enlarged, and a large air inlet was installed at the base of the vertical stabilizer, so as to supply the extra cooling needed for the afterburner. The engine itself was encased in a titanium heatshield.

A two-seat Mirage IIIBJ fitted with the GE J79 made its first flight in September 1970, and was soon followed by a re-engined Nesher, which flew in September 1971.

An improved prototype of the aircraft, with the name Ra'am ("Thunder"), made its first flight in June 1973. It had an extensively revised cockpit, a strengthened landing gear, and a considerable amount of Israeli-built avionics. The internal fuel tanks were slightly rearranged, their total capacity being increased to 713 gallons.

There were unconfirmed reports that a number of the original Mirage IIICs, re-engined with the J79 and given the name Barak ("Lightning"), took part in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but some sources point out that there is no real evidence that these aircraft ever existed.

Operational history

The Kfir entered service with the IAF in 1975, the first units being assigned to the renowned 101st "First Fighter" Squadron. Over the following years, several other squadrons were also equipped with the new aircraft. The role of the Kfir as the IAF's primary air superiority asset was short-lived, as the first F-15 Eagle fighters from the United Statesmarker were delivered to Israel in 1976.

The Kfir's first recorded combat action took place on November 9, 1977, during an Israeli air strike on a training camp at Tel Azia, in Lebanonmarker. The only air victory claimed by a Kfir during its service with the IAF occurred on June 27, 1979 when a Kfir C.2 shot down a Syrian MiG-21.

By the time of the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982 (Operation Peace for Galilee) the IAF was able to use both its F-15s and F-16s for air superiority roles, leaving the Kfirs to carry out unescorted strike missions. Shortly afterwards, all IAF C.2s began to be upgraded to the C.7 version, with enhanced weight performance, making the Kfir more suitable to its new fighter-bomber role.

During the second half of the 1990s, the Kfirs were withdrawn from active duty in the IAF, after almost twenty years of continuous service.

The Kfir in foreign service

Since the J79 turbojet engine as well as much of the technology inside the Kfir are produced in Israel under U.S. license, all export sales of the Kfir are subject to prior approval from the U.S. State Department, a fact that has limited the sale of the Kfir to foreign nations.

As of 2006, the IAI Kfir has been exported to Colombiamarker, Ecuadormarker, and Sri Lankamarker.

United States

Twenty-five modified Kfir C.1s were leased to the US Navy and the US Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989, to act as adversary aircraft in dissimilar air combat training (DACT). These aircraft, designated F-21A Kfir, had narrow-span canard foreplanes and a single small rectangular strake on either side of the nose which considerably improved the aircraft's manoeuvrability, and handling at low speeds.

The 12 F-21 aircraft leased to the US Navy, painted in a three-tone blue-gray "ghost" scheme, were operated by VF-43, based at NAS Oceanamarker. In 1988 they were returned and replaced by the F-16N. The 13 aircraft leased to the United States Marine Corps were operated by VMFT-401 at Marine Corps Air Station Yumamarker. In addition to the blue-gray painted aircraft, the USMC also had some F-21s painted in Israeli colors and desert "flogger" schemes. These aircraft were replaced by F-5Es when the F-21s were returned in 1989.

Kfirs are also used by ATAC, a civilian company that provides fleet tactical aircraft and services to the US military. ATAC provides airborne tactical training, threat simulation, and research & development. They are based in Newport News, VA and also operate the Saab 35 Draken.


Colombian Air Force Kfir C.7 in flight.

As a result of a trade agreement between Colombiamarker and Israel in 1989 the Colombian government bought a batch of twelve ex-IAF Kfir C.2s and one TC.2, which were delivered to the Colombian Air Force (FAC) in 1989-1990. Since then, all the C.2s have been upgraded to the C.7 variant.The FAC Kfirs have been widely used in ground-attack missions during counter-insurgency operations against Colombian guerrillas.Colombian Kfirs are armed with Python 3 IR-homing AAMs.As of 2004 two aircraft had been lost in accidents.

In February 2008 Colombia signed a deal with the Israeli government for more 24 ex-IAF Kfir aircraft. It was estimated that these aircraft will most probably be upgraded by Israel Aerospace Industries to C.10 standard.

In June 2009, the IAI has delivered the first batch of upgraded Kfir fighter jets to the Colombian Air Force in a ceremony held at IAI's facilities in Israel. In attendance at the ceremony was Juan Hurtado Cano, the Colombian Ambassador to Israel, high ranking officers from the Colombian Air Force, and executives from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD-SIBAT). This was a part of a multi-year contract awarded in late 2007 and worth over $150 million to upgrade the existing Colombian Air Force Kfir jets, and to supply additional jets.The additional Kfir jets, models C.10-C.12, have been upgraded and improved to include IAI's latest technologies and products.

On July 20, 2009 a Kfir jet crashed near the city of Cartagena. The Israeli pilots operating the plane were unharmed in the incident, but the jet itself was destroyed.Israel Aerospace Industries said in a statement that the plane was flying a refresher flight, and that the aircraft didn't come to a stop on the landing strip, landing outside it.The director of the Israel Aerospace Industries announced that an investigation into the incident had already begun and that a panel to probe the crash had been appointed.

On July 22, 2009, Israel Aerospace Industries notified in a note to the Colombian Air Force, that they have predetermined the accident as being caused by a human factor, not specified. As a result, Israel Aerospace Industries will replace the unit lost, with another one, and it will resume delivery to the Colombian Air Force.


In 1981, Ecuadormarker and Israel signed a sales agreement for ten refurbished ex-IAF Kfir C.2s and two TC.2s, which were delivered to the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) in 1982-1983. The Kfirs formed the 2113rd Squadron (Lions) of the FAE's 21st Fighter Wing, based at Taura AFB, on the Ecuadorian western lowlands.

The FAE Kfirs went into action during the 1995 Cenepa War between Ecuador and Perumarker. Relying on its fleet of subsonic A-37Bs for low-level ground-attack missions on Peruvian positions, the Ecuadorian Air Force held back its Mirage F.1s and Kfir C.2s for use as escorts and interceptors. On February 10, 1995 a Kfir C.2 shot down a Peruvian Air Force Cessna A-37B with a Shafrir 2 IR-homing AAM.

In 1996, with tensions still running high between Ecuador and Peru, the Ecuadorians acquired four additional Kfirs (three C.2 and one TC.2) after securing approval from the U.S.marker State Departmentmarker.

In 1998, with its aging squadron of SEPECAT Jaguar fighter-bombers about to be withdrawn from active duty, Ecuador began talks with Israel for the sale of a new batch of eight Kfirs. Fearing an escalation of the arms race in South America - Peru had recently acquired 18 MiG-29s and 18 Su-25s from Belarusmarker - the United States blocked the deal. As an alternative, Ecuador and Israel signed an agreement in 1999 for the delivery of two Kfir C.10s and for the conversion of an undisclosed number of the FAE's original C.2s to the C.10 version, referred to in Ecuador as Kfir CE, featuring a Helmet Mounted Display System, and armed with Python 3 and Python 4 IR-homing AAMs.

By 2005, Ecuador had lost four Kfirs, including one TC.2, due to accidents since the aircraft entered service in 1982.

Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) acquired six Kfir C.2s and a single TC.2 from Israel in 1995-1996. A further nine aircraft had been added to the inventory by 2005, including four C.2s and four C.7s acquired in 2000. Currently the SLAF operates two TC.2s, two C.7s and eight C.2s by the No. 10 "Fighter" Squadron. The SLAF has used their Kfirs to carry out attacks against LTTE rebels during the conflict in Sri Lankamarker. Five were lost, with no combat losses. (two crashed in non-combat another two destroyed on runway).


  • Kfir C.1 : Basic production variant.
    • F-21A Kfir : 25 upgraded Kfir C.1 aircraft were leased to the USN and USMC for an aggressor role and were designated F-21A. These aircraft had been modified and included canards on the air intakes. These canards greatly improved the aircraft maneuverability and slow speed control, and were adopted on later variants.
  • Kfir C.2 : An improved C.1 that featured a lot of aerodynamic improvements. Changes included "dogtoothed" leading edges on the wings, small strakes under the nose and a larger sweep angle of the canards.
  • Kfir TC.2 : A two-seat training variant developed from the C.2. It has a longer and lowered nose to improve the pilot's view.
  • Kfir C.7 : Vastly modified variant. The very most if not all C.2 aircraft were modified to this variant. It included an improved J79-GEJ1E engine that offered more 1,000 lbs of thrust at full afterburner (and as a result increasing the Maximum Take-off Weight by 3,395 lbs), 2 more hardpoints under the air intakes, better avionics such as the Elta EL/M-2021B radar, HOTAS configured cockpit and inflight refueling capability.
  • Kfir TC.7 : A two-seat training variant developed from the C.7.
  • Kfir C.10 : A variant developed especially for export. The most important change is the adaptation of the Elta EL/M-2032 radar. Other changes include HMD capability and two 127*177mm MFD's. This variant is also known as Kfir CE and Kfir 2000.
  • Kfir TC.10 : Upgraded version of the TC.7 for the Colombian Air Force.
  • Kfir C.12 : Upgraded version of the C.7 for the Colombian Air Force, a C-10 without the Elta EL/M-2032 radar.
  • Kfir Tzniut : Reconnaissance version of the C.2.


Specifications (Kfir C.2)

See also


  1. According to a number of sources, the Israelis had some covert collaboration from Dassault Aviation itself, going so far as to allow for two disassembled Mirage 5s to be smuggled into Israel in crates (see the IAI Nesher article for details).
  2. Aeroflight. World Air Forces. Retrieved Mar 25, 2006.
  3. " "Colombia to buy Israeli combat jets"
  4. "" "Colombia Purchases 24 Kfir Bomber Jets From Israel"
  5. IAI June 22, 2009
  6. Ha'
  7. ynetnews
  8. Colombian Air Force Website
  9. [1]

Further reading

  • Maquinas de Guerra - Enciclopedia de las Armas del Siglo XX. Planeta-De Agostini, Madrid, 1984. (Aerospace Publishing Ltd., London, 1983). ISBN 84-7551-292-5.
  • Terry Gander, Christopher Chant, Bob Munro, Collins/Jane's Combat Aircraft. Harper Resource, 1995. ISBN 0-00-470846-6.
  • Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd.,
  • Federation of American Scientists,
  • Milavia,
  • Air Combat Information Group,
  • Daniel H. Green,
  • Greg Goebel,
  • Mirage. James Follett. Novel describing the clandestine operation by an Israeli civilian to steal the engineering drawings of the Mirage from a Swiss sub-contractor in the late 60's. ISBN 0-7493-0003-5

External links

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